dreaminghope: (Flying)
An important part of safety in paragliding is taking an SIV course. SIV is a French abbreviation for "Simulation d'Incident en Vol", which translates to "simulation of incidents in flight". Over water, you do things to your wing to imitate bad things that can happen while flying and practice recovering. You learn how to recognize problems, learn what actions you should or should not take in various scenarios, get a feel for long it takes for normal flight to resume, and figure out about how much altitude you lose in the meantime.

For various reasons, I was not able to do the iParaglide SIV course in my first two years of flying, but this year, I made it a priority and headed off to Pemberton with another pilot on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, Russ wasn't able to go this year (he has done SIV for the past two years, though), so I was without my usual support system when facing new flying experiences. Fortunately, I'd been flying with three of my four fellow SIV students all season, so I wasn't doing this with strangers.

For iParaglide's SIV, we go to a remote little beach on Lillooet Lake and we use a boat with a special winch to tow each of us, one at a time, to about 3000 feet above the water. Getting towed up isn't a passive process, but one where you have to constantly monitor the boat and steer to follow it and constantly monitor your wing and brake to keep it steady and overhead. The boat gets you up, but you are also flying the whole time, which, as one participant put it, has some advantages over driving up a hot and dusty road to a mountain launch.

Once high over the water, our instructor, Dion, uses the radio to remind you about what you are going to do, then guides you through the process. For example, to do a frontal, he'll remind you that what you are going to do is pull down all the A risers on both sides. He'll say: "So grab all the metal carabiners for both A lines on both sides. On my command, you'll pull them both down hard and then release. Ready? Three, two, one: huy-yah!" And on the "huy-yah", you haul down on those lines and the entire front of your wing collapses and you release the lines and you fall a little until the wing opens again. And as it happens, Dion says: "OK, release. Great. The wing is open again. Good." And then he gets you ready for the next move. It is all progressive: you start with a move called big ears, which is easy and benign, and move up to slightly more exciting incidents that are likely to happen at some point in your time in the air, like frontals and asymmetrics (where some portion of your wing collapses, usually because of turbulent air, and you have to shift on to the good side of the wing and fly with that until the collapsed portion pops back out).

If you are responding well to commands on those first moves, you next learn b-line stalls and spirals, both of which will help get you down should you encounter cloud suck or other undesirable weather conditions. Then you move to the Big Scary for most of us: the full stall. You pull both brakes all the way down and hold on to the bottom of your harness while your wing turns into a flapping mess above you and you rock back and forth and plummet downwards. The important part of the full stall is to release the stall only when your wing is in front of you; if you release while it is behind you, it will start a cascade, so you'll be swinging drastically forward and backwards in a fairly uncontrolled manner, still losing altitude. Dion gives clear instructions, saying "hold, hold, hold, and release", but if you don't respond quickly to the commands, it can still lead to some crazy stuff. Before going out for the clinic, I was worried about my physical ability to hold down the brakes during the stall and about my ability to do just the right thing at just the right time while my wing is flapping around above me. Then there was an incident on my first tow that lessened my fear quite a bit. Afterwards, Dion called it "the most harried thing I've ever seen at an SIV" and if it had happened lower, I would have been in quite a bit of trouble and may have had to throw my reserve parachute and do a water landing:

A graphic representation of my first tow launch. )

After that, pulling asymmetrics and even the full stall didn't seem so bad. I was a bit discouraged when I couldn't do a B-line stall - I pulled as hard as I could on those suckers, but those nothing was moving - but Dion and I discussed the characteristics of my particular wing and my physical strength and decided to try a C-line stall instead. Usually a C-line stall is a bad idea, but it works really well with my small Icaro Instinct and accomplishes the same thing as a B-line stall: increases your descent rate a lot while staying relatively stable. You drop quickly - it feels a bit like a descending elevator - and you only rock around for a couple of moments until it steadies. As long as you wait until everything is steady before releasing and release slightly more gradually than exiting a frontal, all is very safe and sane feeling. It's a really nice tool to add to my paragliding toolbox, so the whole weekend was worth it for that discovery alone.

I was coming down with a bit of a cold and was so anxious through the whole weekend that I barely ate or slept, so I only managed four tows (most of the other students did six each), but I learned so much and am looking forward to doing it again next year.
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
Many of our paragliding friends have gone on amazing flying adventures: all over the US, Colombia, Australia, and more. One pilot from our school is working on an amazing trip: flying Kilimanjaro for charity. Russ and I are still just getting started with our paragliding vacations, and our first adventure was Nova Scotia this past July. We went with a fellow local pilot, Craig. And last weekend, Russ and I went to our first fly-in, at Black Mountain in Washington State, with Ducky and Jim, another local novice couple.

Flying in Nova Scotia was amazing. It was also completely different than the mountain flying we've done up until this point. Craig had some experience with ridge soaring - where you stay up thanks to the wind forced upwards by the shape of the terrain - but Russ and I have only flown sites that are mostly thermal-driven. Also, none of us had flown coastal sites before. They are different than mountain sites: the winds are higher, the air is smoother, and, in the case of the Parrsboro region, the launches aren't as high.

In learning to fly from iParaglide, we learned our novice safety rules based on local sites, including only launch in winds under 15 km/hour and "height is safety". Suddenly, we were faced with sites that only worked if the winds were at least 25 km/hour and launches less than 100 feet above the landing zone.

I don't think we would have successfully flown if it had just been the three of us. The low winds we launch in for mountain flying wouldn't have kept us up, and our flights would have been 20 or 30 seconds, at the most. And during the higher winds, we wouldn't have had the nerve to launch if it weren't for the best decision we made in preparing for our trip: hiring a local guide.

After Craig came back from a paragliding trip to California last spring, he clued us in to how much he learned from people who had flown the sites before that he did not learn from all the internet research he did before the trip. When we realized that we were going to be flying sites in a small community on weekdays (so the chances of just randomly meeting up with locals would be decreased), we emailed Michael at Pegasus Paragliding and arranged to hire him for a couple of days during our trip.

Michael was fantastic. He was flexible about timing so we could use our time with him on days when the weather was flyable, he was understanding about the challenges we were facing, and, since he is also a paragliding instructor, he was able to coach us through our first coastal soaring experiences. When he wasn't available one of the days, he sent us his assistant instructor, Brian, who was also great. They were both friendly, cheerful, and encouraging, while also staying focused on safety. Thanks to their help, we were all able to have very successful flights at two different flying sites, plus some very short sled runs at a third site. Michael and Brian also introduced us to a number of flying sites we weren't able to try out for various weather-related reasons, showing us the launches and telling us about the typical wind directions, things to look out for, and the best places to find lift. Some of the launches are literally people's backyards and would have been very difficult to find without help. We left eager to return to Nova Scotia for both the friendly people and the great flying. Next time we will be more prepared for those high wind launches!

In Nova Scotia, it was just the three of us and our guide, which was very different than our next flying adventure. Last weekend, four of us novice pilots crossed the border to Washington and went to Black Mountain for the first time. It was the annual Can-Am Black Mountain Fly-In. A fly-in is just a fun excuse for a lot of free flyers to get together to socialize, to eat, and, weather allowing, to fly. There are sometimes fun competitions (a spot landing competition between the Canadians and the Americans, in this case), but the main focus is on fun and enjoyable flying.

We'd never flown Black Mountain before, so a fly-in was a great way to get introduced to the area: lots of experienced pilots to answer questions from lots of other new pilots. The launch is very odd: you stand on the logging road with your wing on a very steep slope behind you and a very steep hill in front of you. That kind of launch is challenging - you have to get the wing up fast without eating up a lot of runway, keep it loaded while on the flat bit, and commit to that steep run-off - especially in light winds, which is what we had that day.

Because of the light conditions and weird launch, Ducky and Jim decided not to fly, so they were our retrieve drivers (and excellent retrieve drivers they were: they picked us up with beer and food ready to go). Russ and I checked our wings out in the parking area and then joined the line of pilots ready to go. The launch is a one-person-at-a-time deal and the light winds meant that people were slow to launch, each hoping for just a little more wind, so the line moved slowly, but that meant there was a lot of time for socializing. It was great to talk with paragliders and hang gliders of all experience levels about where they'd flown, about flying this particular site, about flying other Washington sites.

When you got to the front, the event's safety officer was there to check that you were hooked in correctly and some volunteers would help get your wing set up and would hold it up to catch a bit more wind. Everyone was so encouraging and supportive. When someone had an aborted launch, everyone helped get their wing back in place so they could try again. When someone had several aborts in a row, they would move to the end of the line so the next pilot could go. During each successful launch, people cheered.

The flying was simple: just a sled run, as we all knew it would be because of the weather. Russ tried for the spot landing, but missed scoring any points for Canada. I made the decision to not even try for the target, since it was in a narrow field, and I landed in huge alternative landing zone across the street. No help for the Canadians from us! Still, Russ and I each got a flight at a new mountain to add to our log books, and a new favourite event to add to our annual calendars. We just went for the day this time, but next year, we plan to have our camping gear figured out and go for the whole weekend.

There are some less pleasant people in paragliding too, of course. Our home launch site sometimes gets a little tense when some people with big personalities and incompatible ideals are all there at the same time. But, generally, paragliders (and hang gliders, from what I've seen) are very cool people. It might be the kind of people who are drawn to this weird little sport, but I wonder if it is partially something the sport does to you over time. All that sitting around waiting for the wind to be just right creates patience. Having to check your equipment and check the weather and make the decision about when to fly creates personal responsibility and independence. Flying in itself is an act of joy, of freedom, and of faith, and it requires the pilot to live in the moment and focus entirely on the act of flying. The combined results are people who are generally fun and relaxed, who go with the flow, and who take good care of themselves. Oh, and if our experiences in Nova Scotia and at Black Mountain are any indication, paragliders also know how to eat well. Lobster dinner with Michael (tofu curry for me) and barbequed ribs in Washington (potluck salads and dessert for me) fuelled our flights. Delicious!
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
There was a fatality on Monday in the Canadian Paragliding Nationals in Pemberton, BC. The pilot's body was found yesterday. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I'm sure he loved flying, but I'm sure he didn't intend to give his life for it.

***

Russ and I got a late start - 9 AM - on Saturday, since I nearly gave myself sunstroke cleaning the deck on Friday and Russ was out late, and then we just sort of threw wings and water bottles in the truck and started driving. We were going out to Pemberton to meet up with Dion and some iParaglide students and novice pilots and do a bit of flying before the national competition opened on Sunday. We saw pilots, including some friends, registering for the competition, had some lunch, then headed up for our first flight off Upper Mackenzie launch.

Russ and I had checked out the Lower Mackenzie launch on a previous visit to the area, but this was our first visit to the new, higher launch, and our first time flying the site at all. The new launch is gorgeous. The view is magnificent, of course, and the launch is also a nicely shaped slope with new grass and is very wide, so lots of people can set up and even take off at the same time.

IMG_1680

The competition pilots were flying a practice task, but we launched after most of them because us novices like the mellowest conditions that happen first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon and the evening. There was still some bouncing about as I flew through thermals, but I probably only noticed them as much as I did because the last flying I did was in Nova Scotia, where the air was butter-smooth.

I discovered that I love flying Pemberton. Upper Mackenzie is at least 1000 feet higher than our usual site, Mount Woodside, which makes even a sled run (a flight from launch to landing without any lift) about ten minutes longer. To me, it felt even longer than that, though, because you can't see the landing zone (LZ) from the launch. You launch, then fly all the way around a bump in the mountain to finally see the LZ just on the other side of the river. In my novice-level experience, that feels like an adventure.

Before turning the corner, I was briefly concerned about being able to identify the LZ from the air, as all fields look alike from more than a 1000 feet up, but it turned out to be easy: just land where all the other paragliders are landing and packing up.

Seeing as how we'd just gotten back from Nova Scotia a week before and had scrambled a bit in the morning, we'd only been intending to go up for the day and then maybe go up again on Sunday to watch the start of the competition and maybe get another evening flight in. But the weather was looking good for Sunday morning, so Russ and I made the decision to stay overnight after all. While still on the LZ, Russ used his smart phone to find and book us a cheap hotel*. We rushed to the only grocery store still open to get toothbrushes and deodorant before it closed at 9 PM. Turns out that one of our pilot friends had a package of new underwear in her hotel room, so I bought a pair of panties from her. The next day, we bought some West Coast Soaring Club t-shirts in the LZ parking lot, and we were relatively inoffensive, scent-wise.

That first flight on Sunday was one of my favourites so far. Though it was only a slightly prolonged sled run, it was memorable because Russ and I got to fly together for the first time. Despite the fact that we both paraglide, we've rarely been in the air at the same time due to a variety of reasons. Even in Nova Scotia, where we flew at the same time, we were rarely in proximity to each other; we just always seemed to end up on opposite ends of the ridge.

But the launch is huge, so we could set up side by side. I launched first because Russ' new wing is a faster than mine. Shortly after I was in the air, Russ followed me. We flew the typical route towards the LZ, but were able to see each other and call to each other over the radio or even just through the air. I loved being able to see him flying above me, his shadow passing over me, and seeing the sun filtered through his wing.

We arrive at the LZ at around the same time, as there wasn't any sustained lift out there, and Russ pulled a maneuver called "big ears" to descend faster than me. The only problem was that we were so close together at that point that I was getting bounced around in the wake of his glider. We both landed safely and with big smiles.

We did a quick pack and paid for a ride up with one of the competition retrieve vehicles and managed to get another flight in each before the conditions got too strong. I was very proud of myself on this one: I am typically a bit nervous launching in front of big crowds of strangers, but despite a crowd of competition pilots hanging around, I set up and took off. It was a nice, simple flight with even less lift than on the previous one.

Later in the day, I found a shady spot in town to wait with our wings while Russ got another ride up the mountain to pick up The Beast (our vehicle). While up there, he snapped this picture of just some of the competitive paragliders in the air:

IMG_1691

Then he found out that our vehicle was missing. After scrambling around, talking to various competition organizers, they reached a retrieve driver on the ham radio. The driver was in the process of driving The Beast down the mountain, thinking it belonged to one of the competitors. He was very apologetic, and Russ and The Beast were soon reunited and picked me up only a little later than originally planned. Back to Vancouver, tired, dirty, hot, and very, very happy.

* Some of the furniture was broken, the shower was luke-warm at best, and the room was over a sketchy-looking bar - but the bar had been shut down by the police already that night, so it was quiet... except for the train in the middle of the night. No air conditioning or screens on the windows, but they did provide a stand fan. Still, everything was clean and we got showers and some sleep.
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
A week ago, Russ, Craig, and I went to Nova Scotia for paragliding. We had a wonderful time, fell in love with the Maritimes, and even got in a bit of flying towards the end of our vacation, despite some weather issues.

The sites we were flying in Nova Scotia were different than we are used to. We're mountain flyers: flying with the eagles, seeking thermals, being 2000 feet up. This was coastal ridge flying: soaring with seagulls, hugging the landscape, only launching from 100 feet up. The launches were also different, and the winds were higher. This led to the silliest launch I've ever had... or even seen.

If you want to understand why it happened... )

On Friday morning, we went to West Bay. The winds felt calm until we got to the edge of the launch, when we discovered that they were actually about 25 km/hour, with some higher gusts. Still, that's the kind of winds you need to make ridge soaring work, so we set up. Russ and Craig both had good launches, and then it was my turn. I was nervous. Reverse launches, which you need to do in stronger winds, are not my strong point, and these winds are much higher than we ever use at home. Still, I had done a high wind launch the day before at Fox River and we had Brian, an assistant instructor from Pegasus Paragliding, with us to give advice and keep an eye on me.

Because the winds were so much lower at ground level, Brian helped by lifting the edge of my wing up. I pulled up with good control, got the wing stabilized, turned around to do my run, and launched with one step. The only problem was, I launched to where my feet were about two feet off the ground, but I had no forward momentum. Being light on my wing, my trim speed matched the wind speed so closely that I was going neither forward nor back, but just hanging in the air trying vainly to run, like Wile Coyote off a cliff. It must have looked hilarious: I'm in my launch posture - leaning way forward and hands all the way up behind me to keep brakes all the way off - running in the air about two feet off the flat part of launch. Brian managed not to laugh at me, somehow, and had time to walk up behind me while I hung there and started pushing on the back of my harness. He pushed me off the edge to where I could turn so I wasn't flying directly into the wind and could finally fly free.

Yup, that's me: the push-start paraglider!

The lessons I learned... )
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
I'm in that tedious stage of sick where I can't actually do anything - too weak, and any cold air or physical exertion makes me cough - but where I am not sick enough to be apathetic about it. I have pneumonia. Just a mild case, and the antibiotics seem to be working, but it has got me housebound... actually, pretty much chairbound. My cat's happy at least; my lap currently makes the perfect place for a ten-hour nap.

But it does give me some time to actually write up our latest flying adventures. Hard to believe it was three weeks ago, but we finally got in our first entirely solo flying day. On October 14th, the three of us who have been flying together since our first Slope Soaring class did some evening weather forecasting, and reached the conclusion that the next day may very well be flyable. Another check in the morning and a quick phone consultation, and we were off. Russ and I picked up Craig in front of his building in the mid-morning (later than we usually go out, as the outflow was expected to linger, perhaps in part due to the time of year), and we were off to the mountain.

On the way up, the conversation was about cloud formations, Starbucks bakery items, and Russ and I's brand new niece (born at 1 AM the day before), and was carefully not about being nervous about our first unsupervised flights. Maybe I was the only one.

We know the LZ well at this point, so we drove straight up the mountain. We've been flying Mount Woodside all summer, so everything was familiar as we pulled into the parking lot, sorted out water bottles and granola bars, then packed our wings up to the launch. Russ volunteered to drive the first round, so Craig and I got our wings laid out, checked our lines rather obsessively, then got in line. There wasn't a lot of wind, but it was a bit cross at times, so the line was slow moving as each pilot had to carefully wait for the right cycle to come straight up the mountain. Since there wasn't a lot of lift, no one was rushing and the feeling on launch was fairly relaxed and mellow. Lots of pilots were just hanging out, waiting to see how the day was going to develop.

The three of us did sled runs all day. There was some lift out there, but it was hard to stay in. Those who stayed up were working hard for it and spending a lot of time "scratching" (circling in areas of no lift or drop while looking for a thermal). Russ, Craig, and I just focused on good launches and landings, and we got in three flights each.




In the pictures above, I can almost hear myself saying "c'mon, c'mon! Pull!", which is pretty much what I was probably thinking.

We all had good forward launches all day. I had one - my second launch of the day - where a little gust popped me a bit when I stabilized the wing, so I unloaded it a bit, but I remembered my training, fully committed to getting my weight down and running hard, and successfully launched despite the brief mis-step. When Craig had a little problem with his wing not coming up evenly, he aborted it cleanly, then shook it off and had a great launch shortly after. We were doing it: making decisions and being responsible for ourselves.

The perfect end for me was my last landing of the day. I came in over the south-west corner, over the "three sisters" - the trees on the Riverside LZ that we use to estimate our elevation - and noticed that I was lower than usual, so I turned on to downwind. As I made my next turn on to base, my feet were level with the tree tops: the absolute perfect height. I turned on to final, lined up with the runway and flared at the perfect height. I felt like I stepped out of the air and on to the ground, and I found myself in the first third of the runway, right where I had wanted to land. I even had time to turn to face my wing and bring it down tidily.

I may have ruined the cool factor of such a good landing by turning to my friends who'd already landed and screaming "Did you see that!" across the entire field.

The local flying season is definitely slowing. By the time I am healthy, we will probably be into the rainy time of year. Russ and I hope to get in some travelling with our wings during the off-season, and hopefully there will be kiting and slope soaring and maybe a random winter flying day or two at Mount Blanchard, but it was still nice to end on a high note: "Did you see that!"
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
While Russ and I were in Las Vegas this past weekend, three more students graduated from the novice licensing program from iParaglide. Ducky, Jim, and Simon were all people we'd been carpooling, kiting, and flying with frequently, so Russ, Craig, and I have been hoping to have many adventures with them post-graduation too. To that end, we've been plotting our first supervision-free flights, hopefully for next weekend or the weekend after.

Russ and I have been flying with our school since our graduations, because Russ has been playing landing coach every flyable weekend. It has its advantages, not the least of which is an automatic non-flying driver in the form of our teacher, but it means that we don't necessarily feel like independent pilots. In order to really feel like we've graduated, we need to fly without our teacher around.

I did take one step towards that feeling recently. I was the last of our group to launch on one of the rounds. As I was setting my wing up, our teacher headed down to pick the students back up for the next round. For the first time, I was on my own: I was going to launch without my teacher within sight. To further increase the pressure, there were many experienced pilots on launch, including some tandem pilots and teachers from another paragliding school. Luckily, the conditions were ones I am very comfortable with - low winds for a forward launch - and there was one friendly face on launch: Mark, a pilot I flew with last year when he was finishing his novice license and I was starting mine.

After we both landed, Mark told me that it was a good launch, but I already knew that. I brought the wing up evenly, checked it well, and ran down into a smooth flight. I even got a bit of lift as I played around in front of the ridge.

The next step is a new novice flying adventure. Our teacher isn't going to be at the mountain next weekend, so it'll just be us, with our shiny new licenses, making our own decisions, launching and landing ourselves, being pilots.
dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
In a high school class, there's at least one: the student who struggled but who worked their butt off. Their graduation is a big deal. Everyone is cheering for them; everyone is so proud of them: their family and friends, their teachers, often even their fellow graduates. I wasn't that student in school; my graduation was taken for granted by everyone, including myself. I am a natural at book learning.

Paragliding cannot be learned from a book. I have no illusions that I am a natural at paragliding. Russ has taken to it a lot more quickly than I have and is already an apprentice instructor for iParaglide, assisting at the slope soaring training hill and landing students at the mountain. Our teacher, Dion, was telling Russ about how to make the slope soaring classes run efficiently, emphasizing the need to identify any struggling students early on so they can get extra help and not slow down the rest of the class. That was definitely me in my first class.

Through the course of the training for my novice license, I've struggled with no-wind launches, accurate landings, reverse launches, and kiting... almost everything, really. And I've slowly learned each of those things with extra help from Dion and his other teachers, some tutoring from Russ, lots of practice, loads of visualizing, and sheer stubbornness. I still have a lot to learn, but I can now do reliable no-wind launches, fairly accurate and very safe landings, reverse kiting for as long as I want in good wind and forward kiting for short periods, and I've done two reverse launches at the mountain.

At the end of last summer, Dion and I both thought that I was going to need extra flights after the minimum twenty to get through all my requirements, but when things started clicking for me, it all came together very quickly. I had my graduation flight last Monday, August 1st. It was my third flight of the day and I launched at about 5 PM, when the wind was just settling down again. I did my best reverse launch yet and glided off into the late afternoon sun.

I will never get tired of the view at 2000 feet. The miracle of being in the air, just me and the wind and all that space on all sides is just so powerful. Even a "sled run" - a flight where you launch, fly straight to the landing zone (LZ) and land - gives me ten magical minutes of kicking back in my harness and enjoying the view. I needed the launch and landing practice and I was flying in the morning, before there's a lot of lift, so that’s what a lot of my flights ended up being this year.

On my graduation flight, the evening winds and the ridge lift meant that I didn't have to head straight to the LZ. Instead, I flew back and forth along the ridge, letting the air hold me up, riding over invisible waves of thermals, choosing where to go next. I almost started crying at one point, as I realized that I was in the midst of a dream come true. That was exactly the kind of flying I've always wanted to do.

On the radio, Dion made a point of telling me that it was a good launch and that I was flying well, around supervising a newer student's launch and flight. He is always reassuring and encouraging on the radio, but he sounded especially proud that day.

As of this evening, I'm on the list of members of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada. This video, taken by Russ moments after I landed, pretty much summarizes how I feel:

dreaminghope: (Flying)
We're grounded again this weekend – more rain – so I'm thinking about paragliding instead of flying.

Even when I'm not flying, I love watching it. I watch a lot of videos on the Internet. I've watched a lot of landings from the shade of the one tree on the landing zone (the "LZ"). While waiting for my turn to launch, I've seen some beautiful forward and reverse launches, some tandem launches, some hang glider launches, and a couple of top landings. I even love hanging out while people kite their wings, especially hearing the sound as the wing rises into the air and snaps into stability.

A couple of weeks ago, I was left alone on the launch for twenty minutes or so when our instructor from iParaglide went to pick up other pilots while the weather settled down a little. As I was sitting out in the sun, enjoying the quiet and scenery, a beat-up truck rumbled into the parking lot. A bunch of young men with sturdy builds piled out, beer cans in hand, and clambered up on to the launch. Being a female alone at the top of a logging road... I stood up and tried to look friendly and confident.

"You flying?" one asked me.

"Not yet. The wind's too strong still and I'm waiting for my teacher to come back with the other students. Hopefully I'll be launching before the sun starts to go down."

"This is perfect wind for me," a guy with helmet hair says. Turns out, he's a hang glider who flew earlier and just caught a ride back up to his truck with these guys. There was no reason to walk up to launch with them, but maybe he was being a bit cautious about leaving a woman alone with these strangers. The hang gliders I've met so far have been very mannerly; two of them supplied rags and clean water and helped mop me off after I fell into some mud upon landing last year.

"Did you fly earlier?" a guy asks.

"Not yet. Two other pilots from my class did; they are stronger than I am, so they could launch in more wind."

"Cool. So, this is where you jump off?" a guy with a beer asks, peering over the edge a bit.

"They don't jump; they fly," the first guy says to him, and then to me: "This is the first time he has come up with us."

The guys, apparently, come up all the time to watch paragliders and hang gliders launch. It's a thing to do on a sunny day: drive up the mountain, drink some beers, watch people fly. I told the new guy a little bit about how paragliding works and answered everyone's questions. It was all pretty friendly, except when I got a bit annoyed with them when they set off a firecracker on launch while my wing was bundled just off to the side.

They got tired of waiting and drove off before my teacher got back, which was good because the wind never did mellow and no one got to fly again that day. Driving down from launch is kind of depressing.

The next week, as we were packing our wings on the LZ, an old man came roaring through the field on a motorcycle. When he saw us, he stopped and greeted our teacher, Dion, warmly. The guy on the bike is Joe, the owner of the land we have to pass through to drive to our LZ. He doesn't fly himself, but he is a huge fan of paragliders and hang gliders. Before his stroke, he used to drive people up to the launch for free, just to hear their stories. Now, he is looking at buying the LZ land from his neighbour to make sure it continues to be available to us.

Dion has offered many times to teach Joe to fly or to take him on a tandem flight, but Joe's too worried about breaking a hip. He is happy to just watch:

"I can just spend hours watching you all fly. It's the ultimate in beauty and relaxation. It's like a ballet. When a bunch of gliders and some hangies are up there, it's like paradise to me."

I plan to quote Joe when trying to convince a nearby city to let us launch and land in some municipal parks. What a sales pitch!
dreaminghope: (Paisley Hat)
I've been having trouble with my kiting skills. Part of getting my novice paragliding license is being able to keep my wing in the air for at least three minutes while ground handling, but that requires some skills that don't come naturally to me, such as hand-eye coordination. I enjoy my attempts, but I do tend to just pull the wing up, have it drop down, sort the lines back out, and then start again.

We couldn't fly on Sunday, but the weather was good for kiting so Russ, Craig, and I went to Vanier Park. As I was struggling with my layout, I thought about something on my harness that I'd noticed before: the carabiners that are the attachment points for my wing to my harness face in different directions. They'd always been that way: one facing inwards and the other outwards. Russ' carabiners both face inwards. Now, since much of steering in paragliding is done by weight shifting - in essence, is done with the hips through the carabiners - it occurred to me that the subtle difference in the shape of one side of the carabiner versus the other might be giving me a slight disadvantage, which I definitely don't need. I had evidence in that it was my right carabiner that was backwards and the right side of my wing is always the side that's falling.

Russ helped me flip the right carabiner, and I pulled up again. This time, the wing came up perfectly straight and parked above my head, steady for about thirty seconds coming down. It was probably the best pull-up I'd ever had.

Unfortunately, the wind got wild very shortly after and I didn't have much time to test my new set-up, so I'm not sure yet if that was luck, an actual fix to an actual problem, or a magic feather. I'm eager to get out again soon to find out!
dreaminghope: (Flying)
The season is really getting started now. Friday evening was kiting, Saturday morning was slope soaring, Saturday afternoon was kiting, Sunday morning was slope soaring, and Sunday afternoon was... first flights! All weekend, Russ and I, and sometimes Craig, were with the new batch of P1 and P2 students for iParaglide. This weekend, they were doing their first training sessions and their first flights ever.

The wind was a bit wild on Saturday morning for their first hill training, so Russ, Craig, and I ended up packing our wings up and spending the morning helping the first-timers. When the wind is higher and is cross to the hill, there's a lot more work involved in setting up and keeping everyone safe. I spent my morning running around, cheerfully ordering people around ("Mind that tip! Pull the brakes! Step back! Step forward!") and cheering people on as they made their attempts. This became a bit of an issue when I got home (late) to run a Beltane ritual that was also the rehearsal for the Gathering's main ritual and ended up bossing all my friends around too. Luckily, they took it well ("You ordering us around is kind of hot, actually...").

Sunday morning's wind was lovely: laminar and just the right speed. I helped with set-ups a lot again, but also did four of my own practice launches. I'm still building my confidence, so Russ called the commands* for me twice, Dion did it once, and the last one I did it all on my own.

At about 4 that afternoon, the whole class was on the mountain launch at Mt. Woodside. There were seven people with our school doing their first flights, plus me doing my twelfth. Russ opted to do the driving instead, as his knee was bugging him, and he took some video and photos too.

I was the last of the class to launch, so I got to watch every one of the first flights. They were a remarkable group: every single launch went smoothly (no aborts) and we cheered each other on. One student sang a bit of an aria for us when he was at 3000 feet. Even though we were mostly strangers to each other before the weekend began, there was a great sense of support and camaraderie. Dion, the senior instructor, sets a good learning environment: he is very energetic and motivating and gets everything going fast until each student steps up for their first mountain launch. At that moment, he slows everything down, triple-checks everything, and calmly inspires the student. You can hear him a little bit in the following video of my launch:

Shaking off the cobwebs on Vimeo.


Sixteen seconds from ground to air. It wasn't a perfect launch, but it was a good one - quite possibly my best yet. You can see that I bring my wing up evenly, I stay low to keep the wing loaded, I keep my arms up to let the wing fly at its best, I turn my head to look at each wing tip to check that it's in the correct position, and I keep my legs pumping the whole time to reach launch speed. Solid. Next up: doing it on the mountain without anyone else calling for me.

My wing and I turn beautifully together. The Icaro Instinct tends to turn quite flat anyway (doesn't lose a lot of altitude with each turn), and I have gotten pretty good at weight shifting, which means smoother turns than pulling more brake. I remember how nervous I was to weight-shift on my first flight: even if you know that you are safely strapped in, leaning way over to one side feels very weird until you've done it a couple of times. You can see a bit of me weight-shifting and turning in this video (please excuse the music; I woke to the chorus of this song on Monday morning and couldn't resist using it to cover up the wind noises that dominated in both video clips):

Flying on Beltane on Vimeo.


On the LZ, one of the apprentice instructors, Degas, was doing the landing coaching. I am getting closer to not needing a coach, but it was still very reassuring to have a voice on the radio reminding me of every step. I was anticipating each movement, so I was able to respond very quickly. During the debriefing, he said: "It was like having a radio control paraglider: as soon as I would say something, she was doing it." I got a high-five from Dion for keeping my feet during my landing (I used to stop moving my legs so instead of walking off the momentum of the landing, I'd fall to my knees a lot).

Overall, a fantastic weekend of shaking off the winter dust and getting my body and head back into flying. Hopefully both Russ and I will be flying again this coming weekend.

* The launch commands: Ready? 3-2-1-tension - release and stabilize - load and run.
dreaminghope: (Flying)
I got to the landing zone yesterday and realized that I had forgotten to bring sunscreen. When we got home almost twelve hours later, Russ took one look at my face and started humming "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer".

By the end of last year's flying season, we were prepared. We had a cooler and reusable ice packs and Advil and bandaids and sunscreen and hats and extra clothing and bug spray and wet wipes and napkins and a variety of foods in a picnic bag with silverware and plates, all pre-packed and ready to toss in the car at 6 AM. The off-season has made us a bit lazy, however, and this weekend's paragliding activities had us scrambling just to make sure we had the basics: water and charged radios.

This weekend was a three-part adventure. Friday morning, we went to the park for slope soaring as a warm-up. Russ, Craig, and I arrived at about 7 AM and got almost 2 hours of practice in. I had my first reverse launch as well as a good forward launch. Russ and Craig both got some good airtime. Russ got about twenty feet off the ground a couple of times - very difficult in a park.

Friday afternoon, we were off to a different park for kiting. This year's new crop of students were there too, but I didn't get to chat with them much, as I was working hard. Kiting hasn't quite clicked for me yet, but with a lot of Russ' help, I got the wing up and briefly stabilized a couple of times. Since Russ is interested in becoming an apprentice instructor for iParaglide, this was good practice for him and very helpful for me.

Me and my wing, momentarily in perfect balance:


Saturday morning, we were off to the mountain. It was a bit of a different day, where the new apprentice instructors-to-be were learning how to be landing instructors by taking turns pretending to be the student and being the landing coach on radio. Russ and three other people were doing the training. They got three or four flights in each. Unfortunately, I am not completely self-landing - a requirement for playing a student in case the instruction goes wonky - so I didn't get to fly, but I learned a lot watching all the landings. In addition to our group, there were probably a couple of dozen other wings in the air at any one time and several people landed near us, so we got to meet some more experienced pilots.

Russ guides fellow pilot Degas into landing:


To be a landing coach you have to be able to accurately judge where the glider is in relationship to the edges of the field and how high they are. You also have to figure out how fast they'll come down doing certain manoeuvres, so you can get them to where they need to be when they touch down. I can't imagine doing it myself, but all of the apprentice instructors were doing great by the end of the day. I think the next step is landing actual students under the supervision of an experienced landing coach, and they all seemed ready to do it. Weather permitting, some might be doing it as soon as next weekend.

Weather permitting, I'll be flying next weekend!

Spending the day on the landing zone also gave me an opportunity to watch a lot of gliders in the air. Many people, including Russ, were getting lift off the ridge and catching thermals. It is very beautiful and peaceful to watch.

We had a really nice view of a very experienced local pilot showing off some superior gliding skills:

Local pilot shows paragliders how to glide on Vimeo.

dreaminghope: (Cherry Blossom)
Though the car's thermostat read 2 degrees Celsius this morning, the first signs of Spring provided us with some hope that warmer weather is on the way. On a short walk through my neighbourhood, I saw my very first cherry blossoms of the year:



Another sign of Spring around here:



Those are Russ and I's paragliding wings draped across kitchen chairs set on either side of our bed (our bedroom being the easiest room to shut the cats out of - cats and wings don't mix).

We finally went kiting again this weekend! They were short sessions: a couple of hours on Friday evening and a couple more hours today. The wind wasn't perfect either time and the ground was saturated from a winter's worth of rain, but it gave us a taste of what we've been craving. It was a chance to remember how to put everything on, how to sort out our lines, how to line up with the wind. Though my ability to keep my wing up in the air is still pretty limited, I had a couple of pretty successful forward and reverse launches, which felt really good. It was well worth getting the wings a bit damp and muddy.

Spring is coming!
dreaminghope: (Flying)
Hobbies can lead you to the strangest places.

I've developed an obsession with wind. When outside, or near a window, I am always watching for indicators of velocity and direction, and watching for rotor, wind shadows, and other likely influences. It's good practice for identifying good flying conditions at launch, but right now it is all about kiting.

Russ and I have taken to criticizing the lack of patriotism in our city, as there are not nearly enough flags around to give us wind indicators. We have built up quite a good collection of links to weather websites and webcams, which leads to a lot of conversations about Jericho's weather station versus the harbour's wind report versus the Vanier Park webcam... we still haven't figured out who is the most reliable.

After much discussion about direction and velocity and which park would be the most likely to have decent conditions, we did throw the wings in the car this afternoon. Unfortunately, when we got to the park, the ground was too wet to do anything on, complete with standing water everywhere. This is the second or third time we've driven the wings around but not been able to do anything, which can be a touch discouraging but will be worth it for the day when we find a field dry enough and a day windy enough (but not too windy, and not from the wrong direction) to kite again.

I'm thinking that'll be in about May.

More para-waiting.
dreaminghope: (Flying)
Dear fellow adults,

It is OK to admit you don't know something. It is even acceptable to say "I don't know" to kids.

Russ, Craig, and I take our wings to Vanier Park on sunny days to practice ground handling. It helps with launching, with recovering from problems in the air, and with flying in general. We are quite the sight in our harnesses and helmets and gloves with our big 'gliders spread out. A lot of Vancouver paragliders use this park, so the regular joggers and dog walkers are pretty much used to seeing us, but a lot of tourists and occasional visitors are seeing this kind of kiting for the first time and we get some attention. We're in a lot of strangers' vacation pictures.



(There's a longer video of Russ kiting on the same day as the video above here.)

We don't mind answering questions. If we notice someone lingering, we will often greet them and give them the opportunity to ask us what we're doing. Russ carries our teacher's business cards for people who want to know more.

My pet peeve is hearing people tell each other what we're doing when they are wrong. It is especially annoying to hear parents telling their children with great authority that we're parasailers, that we're going to fly away, that our harnesses are filled with rocks to keep us from flying away, or whatever else they've decided is true. I'm sure it must be wearying to always be answering "what's that?", "why is that?", "what are they doing?", but I notice the missed opportunities to say "I don't know, but maybe we can find out together."

I don't correct overheard errors; I just grumble to myself and get on with what I'm doing. I do love when kids watch us, though. They get the magic of what we're doing: the wonderful sound the wing makes as it snaps open and rushes up into the wind, the beauty of the wing hanging overhead. The other day, a whole group of kids were watching and every time a wing went up they went "oooo..." and every time we dropped it back down they went "oh!". Since I'm still in the beginner's stages, they ended up saying "oooo – oh! Oooo – oh!" in a cheerful chorus. One of the kids, who was maybe nine years old, wanted to try, convinced that he could do it – no problem – and his mom helped me explain to him that my wing is too big for him and would carry him away and that he'd need a helmet and gloves too – "safety first!" (Kids roll their eyes at that even at only nine, as they are, of course, invincible.)

We've been getting out to practice as often as possible, given that we're entering the rainy season in Vancouver. Last Saturday and Sunday, we went to a new park Russ found. It has good wind off the ocean and is a less busy park, so we didn't have to compete for space with other paragliders and with regular kite-flyers and with the kite trike people. I managed to keep my wing up for at least a whole minute at a time while still reversed, which was a new record for me. I'm eager to get out again as soon as possible and hope to take the next step towards keeping the wing up as long as I want to, but the weather isn't always cooperative.

In the meantime, I'm practicing my para-waiting.
dreaminghope: (Confused Zoey)
I don't understand why all the drivers out there aren't terrified every time they get behind the wheel. You are hurtling along in tons of steel, glass, and plastic at speeds much faster than people were ever meant to go. There's danger and distraction at every turn. Conditions are constantly changing, and a moment's inattention could result in damage, pain, injury, or death.

Yes, I know there's some irony in me saying that.

When I turned 16, I never even considered getting my driver's license. I know myself pretty well, and I know I am the kind of person who should not drive. I'm anxious and nervous. I have a bad sense of direction and poor depth perception. I truly believe that not everyone should drive, and that if more people like me made that choice, we'd have fewer accidents on the road. I live in a city, I've always been patient - crucial to using public transportation - and I love to walk, so doing without a license has never been a problem. Then I took up paragliding...

I've been having some trouble landing on target without help. After a couple of near-disasters (more on that another time), we realised that part of the problem is that there's no other time in my life that I move that fast under my own control. I have no experience at steering or at judging distances at 35 or more kilometers an hour. I haven't even been on a bicycle in more than two decades.

At the age of 31, I need to learn to drive in order to fly better and more safely.

I've also realised that I will be a much better part of my flying "team" if I can drive. If Russ, Craig, and I fly together, it means two flights and one drive per person (someone's got to drive everyone up to the launch site and back to the landing zone to get everyone after; you can pay other flyers to take you up, but then you are dependent on the luck of other people being there with vehicles). Some of the roads to launch sites are very interesting. The best ones are logging roads: steep, potholed, tight curves with sharp drop-offs. They apparently get worse from there.

I need to learn to drive a four-by-four on very rough roads, and I may need to learn to drive standard too.

It's my do it anyway project for 2011: learn to drive. Scary!
dreaminghope: (Flying)
A paraglider parrot: Has wings and talks a lot, but doesn't actually fly.

It has been a crazy month and a half of paragliding adventures that cannot be adequately summarized in one post. I'm going to just skip most of it for now and move straight to this weekend's events.

Since I am a bit behind on flights and my landings aren't accurate enough, I was just along to observe. It was an odd position: I was neither a pilot nor a pilot's non-flying partner, and everyone else in the group was one of the two. But I got to hang out with my fellow paragliding students and watch Russ do some crazy stuff.

This weekend was the SIV clinic: a chance to get towed up over 2000 feet above a lake, then try all the dangerous things that can happen to a paragliding wing and how to recover from them. Unfortunately, bad weather meant that they only got a half-day of the two-day clinic done, and it remains to be seen when they'll get to do the other 3/4. Each student did get in one flight and got to try several things. Here's Russ doing his first real wingovers, the last thing he did on his flight:



On the radio is Dion, our instructor from iparaglide, coaching Russ on when to throw his weight from one side to the other in the harness to make the wing swing. After the video ends, Russ did have a near-textbook landing on the beach, as per Dion's request.

We also got to watch an acro pilot do his stuff: spins and tumbles in all kinds of directions as he descends towards the lake*. The funniest part of the day was when the acro pilot did a few too many big sweeping turns on his way to the beach and then ran into the wind that caused his wing to stop all forward momentum about 10 meters from dry land. He was still descending, but rather than coming down at an angle towards us, he was going down like an elevator. A slow elevator: he had time to swear at great length, undo his harness, shrug philosophically, then splash down into the water. The boat retrieved him and he probably spent the rest of the day drying out his wing, clothing, boots, harness, reserve parachutes... He apparently ended up in the lake twice last year while doing demonstrations, so our class has taken to calling him "Sir Splashdown".

Before and after beach-based flying, we all hung out together at a lovely bed and breakfast: soaking in the hot tub and talking about future paragliding travels; gathering around the dining table and discussing the finer points of paragliding theory; lounging in the living room and watching paragliding movies; barbequing on the deck and making paragliding jokes. Our fellow students are really good people, and it was a nice weekend away, despite the minimum of flying.

I hope to be able to do the SIV clinic next year, but to do that, I've got to get back in the air and practice my launches and landings. I've got to become a flying parrot instead of a caged one... or, having seen my rather awkward launches and landings, I've got to at least become a goose again.**

* A video example of acro paragliding.

** Once my harness - with its pockets and air bag protection - is on, I am sort of goose-shaped, and I seem to waddle a bit awkwardly while launching and landing. Luckily, like a goose, I look pretty smooth and graceful once I'm actually in the air.
dreaminghope: (Flying)
We celebrated Canada Day (July 1st) by going flying. Russ and Craig got to do their delayed first flight, and then we all went up and got in second flights. We would have done a third flight, but it started raining.

There was less turbulence this time, I got all the way into the seat, and I could hear my radio better; a pretty cool flight.

My favourite part was when I hit a thermal and rose straight up. One of my instructors, Dion, says that "it's as if the hand of a God was pushing you up into the sky." For me, though, it was more like a sharp inhale; like the wing and I suddenly gasped in together.

I'm sitting here determinedly not thinking about work and waiting for our instructor's call to finalize our wing purchases and arrange for our pilot's license training.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)


Stand at the edge of a clearing on the top of a mountain. Check that the lines are untangled and clear, that the wing is laid out correctly, and that the radio is fully powered. Bob double checks everything too, then radios to the landing field: "Launching Melissa on a small blue glider."

Bob stands at the edge of the runway, feeling the wind's direction and speed, waiting for the perfect cycle for launch. When the time is right, he points out which way to go, then calls out the commands:

"Ready?"

Nod.

"3, 2, 1, tension! Pull, pull! Hard!"

Pull on the lines, throwing body weight forward. The wing starts to come up and the wind pushes back. Suddenly, the pull back eases and the wing is overhead.

"Release and stabilize!"

Release the lines and tug gently on the brakes. Glance up: the wing is overhead.

"Load and run! Run hard!"

Weight thrown forward, head down and arms up. Try to run, but barely get a few steps before the wind takes the wing up: airborne!

It's so turbulent for the first few minutes that I worry that something's wrong. I'm about 2000 feet up, and climbing slightly, so there's some real fear. But, just normal turbulence and the ride quickly smooths out as I glide further away from the mountain side.

Next, I worry because I'm having trouble hearing my radio over the wind in my ears. We can't transmit out on the radios, only listen, so I just have to wait until the teacher realizes I'm not doing what he has asked so he'll repeat himself. A bit of craning towards the radio, and I make it work.

Then, I finally realize something: I'm flying. I can see for miles in every direction, and I'm flying. I scream "I'm flying!" into the wind and I hear laughter over the radio.

"We heard that," someone on the landing field some two kilometres below me says.



Bob, the launch instructor, hands over radio contact to the landing field, where Dion's been listening to my flight so far. Dion tells me to make a turn: 90 degrees left. I cautiously lean left and pull gently on the brake. I barely turn 10 degrees. Gradually I learn that I have to lean hard, throw my weight, and the wing's not going to collapse.

"You're going about 35 kilometers an hour," Dion says.

I want to scream "You're kidding", but I'm breathless. Besides the wind howling past me, I feel like I'm hanging still in space.

I'm starting to get the hang of turning by the time I get to the landing field. I bleed height doing figure eights at one end of the field, then I do the final turns around the edge of the field, following Dion's instructions quickly now that I have less wind blocking out the radio.

"OK, final approach. Get ready to flare."

I raise my hands. I swoop over the heads of the other students on the field who cheer and take my picture.

"OK, flare!"

I pull the brakes down hard, jogging as I touch earth again. The wing stalls and begins to fall to the ground.

"That was a perfect landing; the best one yet today!"

There were a lot of students yesterday: 10 people to two instructors, with students launching one at a time. I was the last of the first group of four. The school has a backlog of students this summer because of all the weather delays, so they were trying to teach more people than they usually would take in a day. Because of that, some minor weather delays, and some disorganization on the part of the teachers, Russ and Craig did not get to do their solo flights. It was heart-breaking and discouraging. They'd generously let other people in front of them and helped set up the equipment over and over again and then it got too dark and they didn't get their chance. We're waiting to hear about the next available date. I'm really looking forward to taking their pictures as they come down into the landing field.

The last person who did get to launch yesterday was the only other woman in the class. She and I had been partners that morning at the Slope Soaring component of the class, as we both need the small wing. She was really scared of heights and had mostly come because her husband wanted to try paragliding, so we weren't sure if she was going to do the mountain flight. But she did it, and she came down in a perfect landing with a massive grin on her face and declared that she was cured of her fear of heights.

I've got massive bruising and rope burn on my upper arms, where the lines pull and scrap as you launch, and my arm, leg, butt, and ab muscles all ache deeply. I've only done the bare minimum of what I need to do today, including sending an email to Dion asking him how Russ and I go about booking our novice paragliding pilot course.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Vancouver's been having a prolonged spring. I'm still sleeping under a quilt and wearing a jacket every day. We've had a handful of nice days, but generally it has been cold and wet.

The process for a Slope Soaring class - the first class of the paragliding program - is to call in just before you leave to find out what site you'll be at. Since the site might be as far as an hour's drive away and class starts at 6 AM, we call at 4:45 AM. So at quarter to five - a time that barely qualifies as 'this morning' - Russ, Craig, and I were showered, dressed, packed and standing in our kitchen, ready to go. We made the call. Class was cancelled today due to rain and unfavourable winds.

Craig went back to bed, but Russ and I were too awake. We went off to breakfast at a 24-hour place, then made a trip to a couple of hardware stores to pick up some things (especially a new hot water heater, as our current one is slowly creating a puddle). I cleared a path through the basement for next week's hot water tank installation. When the weather cleared up, Russ did some gardening. I read and played some Sudoku. Russ played some video games. I went to RubyDog's Art House. Russ went out with a friend. It's amazing how much you can get done when you start at 5 AM.

We've got our class re-booked for June 19th; two more weeks to visualize and practice in my head. I'm getting very good at imaginary launches, though people on my walk to work may wonder when I suddenly burst into a quick jog, swinging my arms to pull up my imaginary wing.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
We flew today!

We were out the door by 5 AM and at the park in Tsawwassen by 5:45 AM.

Very picture heavy. )

Incredible! I got two really good launches with short flights and one or two more launches that probably would have worked on a mountain but there wasn't enough space off the hill for me to get really in the air with them. I also had a few disastrous attempts: several times I forgot the release portion and the wing got ahead of me and collapsed, a couple of times I forgot to keep running once the wing got up, and once everything went wrong and I face-planted! I've got a scrap on my cheek and I nearly gave myself a black eye.

Craig and I were a team (taking turns on their smallest wing) and we did have some trouble getting going. The wind conditions weren't perfect, as there was some gusting and some cross-breezes, and being the lightest flyers, we were getting tossed around a bit and I think we had more false starts than everyone else. We didn't get in enough practices to get consistent in our launches. Russ did better and had some great launches. He could've gone on today to the next phase (Discovery Solo), but he wasn't feeling 100% sure of his launches and decided that he'd rather wait, do "Slope Soaring" again with Craig and I and then probably go on, hopefully with both of us too. Russ' teammate today was on his second "Slope Soaring", so that's not unusual.

It was a lot of work: lifting the wing, fighting the wind, running to get up speed, and hauling it all back up the very steep hill. We would do three or four launches, then switch with our partner and serve as their wingman for their turn. That involved laying out the wing and helping to get all the lines straightened - lots of running around. My legs, arms, and shoulders are achy. I've got some abrasions and bruises on the insides of my arms (not as bad as the ones from the tree course day though). It was worth all of it though, for the moment when you are running as hard as you can, towing the wind behind you, and suddenly your churning legs aren't touching dirt anymore and the wind is carrying you and your heart seems weightless from the success and the joy of flight and you can hear the other participants behind you, cheering you on.

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dreaminghope

February 2014

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